Banning tobacco billboards: The case for municipal action

JAMA. 1996 Apr 24;275(16):1263-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.275.16.1263.


In 1994, Baltimore, Md, became the first city to generally prohibit billboards from displaying alcohol and tobacco advertisements. The owner of most of Baltimore's billboards, Penn Advertising, sued, but the federal district court rejected the billboard company's complaint and ruled that the First Amendment had not been violated and that the federal cigarette labeling acts had not preempted the ability of Baltimore to regulate and prohibit billboard cigarette advertising. In the fall of 1995, the federal district court's judgment was unanimously affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. This article analyzes the constitutional and preemption issues and concludes that states and municipalities are on firm legal ground when they restrict the location or placement of publicly visible cigarette advertisements without attempting to regulate the advertisement's content or message. States and municipalities command broad authority to protect children and to shield the public from intrusive forms of advertisement that inflict their messages on a captive audience. A billboard ban thus offers local communities a legal avenue to help curb the rising tide of juvenile smoking without raising taxes, creating bureaucracy or angering smokers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advertising / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Baltimore
  • Humans
  • Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Jurisprudence
  • Local Government*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Tobacco*
  • United States